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This Study Series is being released according to the Torah Reading Schedule.

This week- Section 18
Name- משׁפטים Mishpatim (Rulings) (Judgments)
Parashah/Parsha- Sh’mot 21.1-24.18
Torah Portion: Exodus 21.1-24.18

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from the JPS edition of The Torah, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures, according to the Masoretic Text, First Section. Copyright 1967 by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Second Edition.

This week I want to discuss Deuteronomy 5.17b [5.18] and Exodus 20.13b [20.14].

Deuteronomy 5.17b JPS [Deuteronomy 5.18 KJV]
You shall not commit adultery.

Exodus 20.13b JPS [Exodus 20.14 KJV]
You shall not commit adultery.

– – – – –

As I discussed in Essay 10, the Deuteronomy narrative of the Ten is from Moses’ perspective. In previous Essays, I have given substantial reasons explaining why. For this Essay, I am not going to restate or summarize any of those reasons. Instead, I assume my reader to have read those Essays.

In the previous Essay, I discussed the sixth of the Ten.

In this Essay, I want to discuss the seventh of the Ten.

As I discussed in the previous Essay, there is no movement from first person to third person with the sixth, seven, eighth, ninth, and tenth.

That absence of movement from first person to third person means that an inline comment explaining these particular commandments is clearly absent.

That absence of inline comments encourages multiple facets of interpretation as to the intended meaning of the commandment, which I will discuss as I go through this Essay.

 
Whether Deuteronomy 5.17b JPS or Exodus 20.13b JPS, the JPS presents the commandment the same within the English: You shall not commit adultery.

There is, however, an important notation that one commentary[1] makes, it states:
This [commandment], like the commandment that follows, is connected with the preceding by the conjunctive [and], linking the injunctions stylistically more closely than in Exodus 20 where the [conjunctive] is absent.

Additionally, that same commentary[1] states:
The seventh commandment and the eighth and ninth are in this [JPS] version part of verse 17, while in other versions [e.g. KJV] they are separate, thus giving the chapter three additional verses.

As I have been identifying in these Essays, there are differences between the way the Ten are presented in Deuteronomy versus how the Ten are presented in Exodus, and I have been discussing various ways I account for those differences.

While in English, the seventh of the Ten appears to be the same, that commentary notation reveals that the Deuteronomy Hebrew text for the seventh of the Ten is different from the Exodus Hebrew text of the seventh.

Is that significant? Yes, and no.

Yes, in the sense, that the JPS does not bring into English the conjunction that the commentary states is present within the seventh of the Ten as found in Deuteronomy.

Yes, in the sense, that it becomes obvious that the Hebrew texts for this portion, the seventh of the Ten, between Deuteronomy and Exodus have some differences.

No, in the sense, that while the conjunction is present in the Deuteronomy seventh of the Ten that conjunction serves as a stylistic enhancement to Deuteronomy’s presentation of the Ten.

Is that stylistic presentation an issue? For some, maybe. For me, no.

Where does that stylistic presentation originate? It is my studied opinion that the stylistic difference is from one of two sources. One, from Moses. Two, from the Deuteronomy Redactor.

Either way, what is important is that the Hebrew text for Deuteronomy’s seventh and eighth of the Ten is different stylistically than the seventh and eighth of the Ten as presented in Exodus.

 
In the previous Essay, I discussed that there is no inline commentary regarding the sixth of the Ten, which has led to many discussions about the meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated in English as either “kill” or “murder”.

Similarly, because the seventh of the Ten has no inline commentary regarding the seventh of the Ten, there is much discussion about the meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated into the English word “adultery”.

The Hebrew word na’aph (H5003) is translated into the English word: adultery.

Brown-Driver-Briggs states that na’aph means: to commit adultery. Then further defines it to mean that is usually of a man who engages with a wife of another man. Then adds that adultery can be conducted by women. But also adds that adultery can occur in the figurative sense as seen in idolatrous worship.

Strong’s states that na’aph is a root that means: to commit adultery, and figuratively means to apostatize.

The King James Concordance states that na’aph is found in the Torah, the Pentateuch, in the following verses: Exodus 20.14 [20.13b]; Leviticus 20.10; Deuteronomy 5.18 [5.17b].

From that then, the Hebrew word na’aph is found in the seventh of the Ten, both in Deuteronomy 5.17b [5.18] and Exodus 20.13b [20.14], and in Leviticus 20.10 JPS, which states: If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.

From those few verses, the commentary that has been conveyed through the centuries is essentially that the seventh of the Ten prohibits sexual contact outside of marriage and that conveyance has received various explanations, trying to attempt an explanation of the intended meaning of the seventh of the Ten.

For example, one commentary[1] states:
The commandment applies to men and women: both are punished when found guilty of adultery (Lev. 20:10), the man having violated someone else’s marriage; the woman, her own ([because] men could enter multiple marriages while women could not).

That type of explanation causes quite the stir, and in my studied conclusion doesn’t really answer the question: what is adultery?

In short, infidelity to one’s marriage, and I will add, infidelity to one’s committed personal relationship, is one type of adultery, but not the only adultery. I will explain as I go through this Essay.

Importantly, another commentary[2] states:
The prohibition against adultery in the Decalogue… has transformed the ancient Near Eastern breach of the contractual rights of the woman’s husband… into an offense against both God and the larger community.

It is my studied conclusion that that commentary notation proves to be the most beneficial in helping identify the intent of the Hebrew word na’aph (adultery).

Why? Because Leviticus 20.10 establishes that na’aph (adultery) occurred and that na’aph (adultery) should receive severe punishment.

However, neither Leviticus 20.10 nor Deuteronomy 5.17b (5.18), nor Exodus 20.13b (20.14) define or specifically identify na’aph (adultery).

Some will identify verses within the Torah, Pentateuch, as specifying sexual matters as defining adultery. For example Deuteronomy 22.22a JPS:
If a man is found lying with another man’s wife, both of them -the man and the woman with whom he lay- shall die.

That certainly sounds like Leviticus 20.10, and granted, phraseology is similar, but the grammatics are not the same.

Leviticus 20.10 JPS:
If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.

Deuteronomy 22.22a JPS:
If a man is found lying with another man’s wife, both of them -the man and the woman with whom he lay- shall die.

Again, I will state that sexual infidelity (unfaithfulness) is one type of adultery, but sexual unfaithfulness is only one kind of infidelity (adultery, na’aph).

So, I will postulate that Deuteronomy 22.22a identifies one situation where a type of na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) can be found.

However and importantly, Leviticus 20.10 itself does not identify a situation that actually defines na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness).

Instead Leviticus 20.10 simply does two things. One, identifies that na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) could exist. Two, identifies what should be done if/when the situation does exist.

Importantly while Deuteronomy 22.22 and Leviticus 20.10 impose the death penalty on na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness), there is a tremendous process that must be done before any punishment is given.

In essence, vigilante action against an adulterer/adulteress is prohibited by Torah, because there is to be a trial or hearing of the accused before any punishment is carried out.

Deuteronomy 17.6 establishes that the testimony of two or more witnesses is required for an event that requires the death penalty. Therefore, there has to be two or more credible witnesses to establish that na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) actually occurred.

Additionally, Deuteronomy 17.7 establishes that the witnesses themselves are to be the first to carry out the death penalty.

Since sexual infidelity is notoriously difficult to find witnesses to support and prosecute, and because Torah itself says the witnesses themselves have to be the first to carry out the execution of the one accused of na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness), then it is of little wonder that divorcements seem to be the preferred method of resolving these types of disputes within the personal relationship.

Therefore while sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) is certainly prohibited, sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) is only one type of na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness); additionally, if one was tried and found guilty of sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) it didn’t automatically mean they lost their life to the death penalty.

So I have thoroughly established that sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) is only one type of na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness).

Another type of na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) was defined by Brown-Driver-Briggs, where it added that adultery can occur in the figurative sense as seen in idolatrous worship.

That type of na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) is found in Jeremiah 3.8-9 JPS:
…Because Rebel Israel had committed adultery, I cast her off and handed her a bill of divorce; yet her sister, Faithless Judah, was not afraid -she too went and whored. Indeed, the land was defiled by her casual immorality, as she committed adultery with stone and with wood.

In each instance, the English word adultery translates the Hebrew word na’aph.

Importantly, Jeremiah 3.8-9 reveals that the prohibition of na’aph found in the seventh of the Ten is not limited to sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness).

That passage makes it clear that the prohibition against na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) is expansive in which it includes the concept of spiritual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness).

Yet, it cannot be missed that Jeremiah 3.8-9 aligns spiritual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) against sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) in order to make a comparison.

From that then, what can be established is that the intention of the seventh of the Ten is to prohibit more than that sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness).

With that in mind then, the entirety of the Ten is to establish where Israel was to be faithful having fidelity, the opposite of na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness).

The Ten establish that Israel, both individual and national, were to be faithful:
1) to Jehovah, first and foremost;
2) to Jehovah by not constructing objects of veneration for worship;
3) to Jehovah by not using Jehovah’s name in false ways;
4) to Jehovah by observing the sabbath and keeping it holy;
5) to Jehovah by honoring father and mother;
6) to Jehovah by not murdering;
7) to Jehovah by not being unfaithful in anything;
8) to Jehovah by not stealing anything;
9) to Jehovah by not working falsely against neighbors;
10) to Jehovah by not coveting anything.

Therefore while five through ten are certainly about individual Israelites and their relationship to family, neighbors, and community, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten, are foremost and a primary means by which an Israelite and Israel as a nation show their faithfulness to Jehovah.

Therefore it can be interpreted that the seventh of the Ten -not to commit na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness)- encompasses not only sexual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) but also spiritual na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness) but also emotional, financial, and personal na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness), along with any other means that an Israelite might find relational na’aph (adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness).

 
 
Footnote:
[1] The Torah, A Modern Commentary; commentary regarding You shall not commit adultery; p. 1357; ISBN 0-8074-0165-X.

[2] The Jewish Study Bible, JPS Tanakh; commentary regarding verse 5.17 [5.18 KJV]; p. 377; ISBN: 0-19-529751-2.

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